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‘I Don’t Believe In Popes’: Nicaraguan President Reportedly Bans Easter Public Processions

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega reportedly banned public church processions for Easter after comparing the Catholic church to the “mafia,” according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Tensions between the government and the church have been rising due to Ortega orchestrating multiple investigations into church leaders and exiling others, according to CNA. Ortega has reportedly placed a ban on public religious demonstrations during Lent, Good Friday and Easter after he attacked the church during a speech memorializing the 89th anniversary of Nicaraguan national hero Augusto Sandino’s death, calling the Catholic church a “mafia organization” committing “grave crimes and horrors.”

Any religious rituals pertaining to the Easter holiday will have to be performed indoors, according to CNA. Half of the country’s citizens identify as Catholic, according to a 2020 report on International Religious Freedom from the U.S. State Department.

Ortega also argued that religious leaders should be elected and not appointed by the “organized mafia in the Vatican.”

“I don’t believe in popes or kings: who chooses the Pope?” Ortega said. “If we want to talk about democracy, the people should first elect priests and the bishops [and] even the Pope [should be] elected by direct vote and not by the organized mafia in the Vatican.”

Ortega’s decision comes just weeks after the Nicaraguan government sentenced Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa to 26 years in prison for treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news, according to ABC News, and deported 222 political opponents to the U.S.

Pope Francis issued a statement on Feb. 12 saying that he was “saddened” by the situation in Nicaragua.

“The news from Nicaragua has saddened me a great deal, and I cannot but remember with concern Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, whom I care about greatly, sentenced to 26 years imprisonment, and also those who have been deported to the United States,” the pope said. “Let us also ask the Lord, by the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to open the hearts of political leaders and all citizens to the sincere search for peace, which is born of truth, justice, freedom and love, and which is achieved through the patient pursuit of dialogue.”

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